A Eulogy for Delayed Gratification
It is with heavy hearts that we gather here. Today we pay our last respects to our trusted friend, Delayed Gratification. There is some not-so-subtle irony that he died the weekend after Black Friday, the day when businesses' financial fortunes magically improve overnight.
He was the patriarch of entrepreneurship, had been with us for so many years and served us very well. This comes as no surprise to me. I saw this day coming on the horizon but just didn't think we'd reach it quite so soon. As we mourn his passing, he will be remembered for teaching us valuable business lessons such as:
- Great things happen for those who wait.
- There are no shortcuts.
- Instant results are shallow achievements.
Delayed Gratification had a very simple code he lived by: Success equals effort over time.
As a result of this being his north star, Delayed Gratification understood that failure does not define you. It's neither fatal nor final, and often, a setback is a set up for a great comeback.
Speaking of setbacks, his health took an initial setback in 1983 when FedEx’s growth rate was compounding at a rate of 40 percent annually and was the first billion-dollar pure startup in the U.S. Everyone thought they should quickly be able to do the same. Then, a few years later, Amazon allowing people to order a movie or listen to a song at the push of a button led to an even more rapid decline in his well-being.
Ultimately, what killed him wasn’t technology and innovation. It was the false belief of the public that everything should happen equally fast. He shared his fear with me in a handwritten letter penned from his hospital bed.
It read, “The speed and convenience that technology provides us has caused people to expect instant results in every aspect of life from business to sports. We seem to forget entrepreneurship is more like a crock pot than a microwave.”
Sad but true. We are expected to achieve more, better, faster and with less, under unreasonable timelines and unforgiving expectations. The CEO of Mattel was fired just two years into his tenure for the company losing its lead in market share to a rival. Why? Because Barbie sales were struggling compared to Lego.
It appears that civility even takes too long these days. This is evidenced by CEOs being fired via text message for not turning companies around fast enough and employees being laid off electronically in under 140 characters as well. To add insult to injury, coaches are often fired mid-season after a loss. Some are even fired before they get off the airplane on their way home from games. What is this world coming to?
Delayed Gratification’s love of college sports is well documented over the years. He often said the wins, losses, joy and pain of competition mirrored entrepreneurship. Both are big business where entrepreneurs report to investors and coaches answer to their version of shareholders (boosters).
He was being kept alive by artificial means, when tragically he completely lost the will to live because two iconic, future hall of fame coaches were being run out of their respective positions by angry and influential shareholders (boosters). Mark Richt was fired at the University of Georgia despite having the highest winning percentage in program history. Les Miles, whose team was ranked number two in the nation just three weeks ago, narrowly escaped the firing squad.
Why is this happening to leaders in all industries? Because sustained excellence just isn’t good enough anymore.
We've come to think every type of result should be as fast and automatic as getting an answer from Siri. Gone are the five-year plans. We barely get a five-minute plan because we constantly want more, better and faster. We seem to forget that you can only have two out of those three -- better and faster don't live in the same zip code.
Every season in business and sport will not end in a championship. Both are games of failure. Only one team wins the final game each season. Massive financial growth every quarter is as unrealistic as winning every game.
The coroner’s report indicated that Delayed Gratification died of a broken heart. He will be laid to rest alongside his parents: Patience and Will Power. The family doctor revealed that the health of his siblings, Self-Control and Impulse Control, is currently in question.
Delayed Gratification is survived by The Internet, Knee-Jerk Reactions, Same-Day Delivery, Instant Messaging and the Microwave Oven.
Friends, I leave you today with one request. If you remember Delayed Gratification fondly, please share this eulogy with your colleagues. But if you’re afraid they won’t respond instantly, don’t bother.
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